Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Sassafras, Maple, and Oak Leaves

I couldn't let the fall leaves pass without painting a few, so we headed out at midday for a hike and a little journaling time.  Daisy and Dukie did the usual leaping and prancing and fake fighting, and Daisy did her thing of pulling at my shoe laces as I walk... yes, it's always a little difficult getting going!  

Our section of woods is at its peak right now, with hickories, maples, sourwoods, and dogwoods full of rich color.  On the pipeline, though, many of the trees have been stripped bare.  It can be like a wind tunnel out there.  On a breezy day, when you step out of the woods it feels more like the beach than the piedmont of SC.  

As we hiked no human sounds could be heard - no planes, no lawn mowers, no leaf blowers, no traffic - so I was able to hear the soft, high-pitched cheep of  Golden-crowned Kinglets. I found them in binoculars, one male and two females, busy in a dogwood tree.  The male's lovely golden crown was bright and clear. The females look the same, but without the crown, and could be mistaken for other birds, so it's good to see the male with them. It makes identification much easier.  The dogs weren't impressed, so we headed on so they could run, run, fast, fast!  

I hiked (the dogs ran!) downhill toward the creek, but didn't make it all the way to the water.  Instead, I picked up sassafras and maple leaves and found a sitting-spot at the top of the steep drop-off to Meetinghouse Creek, on the upper edge of the sloping field.  By this time Daisy and Duke were tired enough to take naps, so they settled next to me for a snooze.  

Two leaf sketches later I got up to pick a few leaves off of a baby oak tree nearby. They hadn't completely turned, and I thought the color was nice.  But, when I came back to my journal I found a large Wolf Spider sitting on the page!  I'm better about spiders than I used to be, but I just couldn't bring myself to even try to draw him as he sat on my journal, so I whipped out my trusty iphone and snapped a photo.  

By the end of our journaling time the clouds were breaking up, revealing blue patches, and lots of sunshine.  I packed up my bag and headed into the afternoon sun, marveling at the glowing leaves in the woods.

The view from where I journaled.

2 o'clock sun filtering through bright leaves as we head home.

Come on, Mom!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Photos from yesterday's hike

White Checkered Skipper

Photography is such a great way to share what you've seen, but it's also a great way to see what you missed in real life.  For instance, in my attempt to get this photo of a White Checkered Skipper I jumped around in waist-high grass and wildflowers, probably stepped in fire ants, and picked up an armful of beggar-ticks, just to follow the constantly moving subject.  The lens' auto focus wasn't functioning for some reason, so that added a special challenge.  I was able to get only six shots.  In my rush to the capture butterfly, I didn't notice the yellow beetle on the leaf (left).

Below is one of the failed attempts, but click on the photo and check out the flowers to the right - there's a party going on!  A stinkbug, a red-eyed fly, and behind him, a ladybug.  I totally missed them in real life.

So, once again I am reminded that in life, slower is better.  Imagine how much we don't see even if, like me, we are actually searching for it.  Note to self: Slow down, slow down, slow down.

Here are some more photos from yesterday's hike.  Click on the photos for larger size.
Interesting leaf-change - looks like it was somehow affected by 
the insect chomping holes in it...  

Possibly False Turkey Tail... on oak log.

 Leftovers from someone's meal.  It was a small animal (compare to oak leaf)...  not sure who has teeth like that.

 Yellow Bear Caterpillar (turns into a Virginia Tiger Moth)

 Crowded Parchment

On the same tree as above... only 1/3 inch high.  

And last but not least, Daisy on the Lawson's Fork trail...

watching out for her brother Dukie.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Stiff Aster, Folded Wing Skipper, Winged Sumac

An early cold snap Friday dipped us into winter for a bit and zapped many of the fall asters out in the field, but today it was back in the 60's, and a refreshing breeze blew from the west.  There were NO GNATS!

The dogs and I tramped around in the woods up on the rocky ridge, then slid down the steep hill to Meetinghouse Creek, where lots of four-legged romping and splashing took place. Duke disappeared around a curve in the creek and may have explored Lawson's Fork (he came back totally wet); Daisy stayed with me.

On the way out of the woods we passed through a spot I particularly love, where pines rise through an emerald green carpet of running cedar.  I've tried to get a photo of the carpet numerous times, but it just doesn't translate. There must be a magical trick of the eye that creates the carpet, something a mechanical camera just can't do. Deer paths cross this way and that, and downed pines sprout Turkey Tails and Crowded Parchment.

Back on the sunny pipeline, we hiked back up to our hill and settled down to draw a flower or two. The Stiff Aster was quite close to me, so I just leaned in to see details as I drew.  I was about 12" from the flower when a tiny honeybee landed on the yellow center.  It was fun seeing him working, up close and personal.  And then, as soon as the bee buzzed away, a folded wing skipper (probably a Fiery Skipper) fluttered past my ear, and landed to sip.  She didn't stay long, and the iphone was out of reach, but the magical camera in my eye caught her beauty perfectly.

 Turkey Tail & Running Cedar under pines

Unknown mushrooms

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Grass - Purple Tridens

Message to my readers:  It's been almost a year since the book "Middlewood Journal" came out.  What a fun, busy time I had traveling, talking about journaling, and making new friends!  Alas, all that activity gave me little time to unwind enough to go out and journal, and then come back in and post.  I walked, yes, and sometimes journaled, but somehow they didn't make it to this blog.  But now... I'm back!  I hope to post at least once a week.   Thanks for your patience,  Helen

TODAY:    Even if the trees are not showing much enthusiasm color-wise, fall weather is working its magic this morning at Middlewood.  Up on Jay's Hill a stiff northerly breeze blew across the grasses causing them to swirl and dip.   Fall field crickets chirruped all around, and tiny grasshoppers bounced around the grasses under foot.  Two buckeye butterflies twirled and danced in the cool wind.  We are supposed to have temps in the 30's by Friday... I wonder about those buckeyes... do they hibernate like mourning cloaks?  Will have to look that up.

I sat to draw near a Tulip Poplar that grows alone on top of the hill.   My view was the sloping hill, a line of treetops (from lower down) that are just barely turning color, and beyond to Hogback Mountain and the whole range (in NC) north from there.  The sky above me was deep blue, with the horizon pale and filled with lines of small scurrying clouds.  When gusts came in from the north, leaves on the poplar rattled and were torn from the tree, and once on the ground they bumped and tumbled across the grass.   

Only one flower was visible from where I sat - a lone dandelion, glowing in the sun.  At first I thought to draw it, but when I got close I realized that a huge ant hill (fire ants) had been built all around the plant.  Enough said, yes?  Instead I just picked a non-anty spot to sit and found this small tuft of tridens grass with one spent seedhead.  

Daisy and Duke sat near me while I drew and studied the view.  They are both four years old now and settling down nicely as journaling companions... well, except for an occasional burst of Dukie Itchiness that causes him to stand up, and then throw himself onto the ground with a loud UMPH, followed by some serious wallowing and back-scratching.  It ends with him standing back up and shaking all the dead grass onto me.  Then, of course, he gives me a big Golden Slurp, and also of course, Daisy has to get in on the action and comes to give me a dainty little Collie Kiss.  It ends with them going back to their spots to sit and enjoy the view, and me going back to my journal. 

The last of the morning glories for this year.

Heading back to the house.

Monday, May 20, 2013


Here are some photographs I took at the Nature Journaling Workshops I led last weekend at our beautiful Hatcher Gardens.  I taught them to make lists, write poems, draw pictures, and/or write descriptions of what they saw.  Friday was the adult workshop, Saturday was for kids 12 and under.  This is such a great activity for any age! Please email me if you would like to discuss a workshop in your town. 

 The adults spread out so much I couldn't find everyone, although these three were easy!

 Female Downy Woodpecker who flew right in front of me, and landed on this tree.  I believe she wanted to be photographed.

 Sweet Lilly!  

 Busy Alexander, who loved bugs of all kinds!

 Bella exudes happiness!

 With some encouragement, Charlie decided at the last minute to join the workshop (with his sister, Bella).  He had a great time!

 Lilly is a serious journal keeper.

 Bella and Lilly - Friends!


 Charlie's Honeysuckle Poem

Bella's great list of what we saw!

Charlie said, "This thing in the pond looked like half fish, half squid!"  I promised to look it up in my field guides.  Stay tuned.  :)

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Tulip Poplar Roots

In case you ever doubt that a tree's root system is as large as the tree itself, check out the roots of these twin Tulip Poplars, holding on to the bank along my favorite small, but fickle, Meetinghouse Creek.  During heavy rains, the innocent looking little stream rises high enough to erode the soil under the trees.  Over the years, the tree has compensated for this by growing its roots into the side of the steep hill.  

I have loved these trees since I first saw them 22 years ago.  It's a great place for children to climb and play - a fall (onto soft sand) would not hurt even the smallest child.  And, in the dark recesses of the root system, I think some wild animal has made a home, although it must be a nice animal, because it doesn't seem to mind us playing on the roots.  

The trees are located in an area of the woods my family has always called, "Coon Hollow," because we've always seen raccoon tracks in the sand along the creek.  Today, I am sitting on the trunk of a fallen oak that rests on the opposite (also rising) side of the creek, so it is not flat on the ground, but about two feet in the air, and is the perfect height for me to sit comfortably.  

It was warmish when we headed out, or maybe "coolish with no wind" is more accurate, so I hiked into the shady woods to draw, but by the time I'd finished, at 5:00 p.m., the chilly air was settling in the valley.  My fingertips were beginning to feel numb.  Daisy and Dukie didn't seem to notice, they just had fun playing in the water, and then resting nearby.

I chose the sunniest route home, and at one point stopped in full, hot sunlight to put my face up to soak up the solar heat.  So delicious!

 (You probably noticed... I forgot my pens today!)

 Cranesfly Orchid leaves growing in Coon Hollow

My friends run through Meetinghouse Creek...

Sunday, March 3, 2013


We headed out this afternoon around 3:00 in full sunshine and a stiff breeze.  The mid-40's temps meant the wind was very chilly when a gust came whooshing past.  Brrr.  As I left the house, I called, "I may be right back, but I may not!"  I had been trying to leave for several hours, but the wind-chill-factor kept sending me back in.  This time I had on enough top layers to block some of the wind: silk long undies, long sleeved t-shirt, turtleneck wool sweater, Patagonia top, and a scarf.  My goal: head to Meetinghouse Creek to sit in the sun on the south facing bank.

It was good.  It was warm.  It was cozy.  Daisy and Duke played a bit then settled down for a nap on either side of me.  The air in the little valley smelled damp, the sound of rippling water over rocks soothed my frazzled, undecided mind.  I would stay. 

I drew one of the many Spikerush plants that grow in the sand along the creek.  The sun can't penetrate the round spikes of this plant, but within it were blades of newly grown grass that glowed bright green.  The dark green Spikerush grows everywhere along Meetinghouse Creek as it passes through the open, sunny pipeline.  Its roots help hold the banks during times of flood.

After I completed the drawing I closed my eyes, put my face into the sun, and listened to the wind blow through the pines above our head as it skipped over our low valley.  A small plane buzzed high in the sky.  I put my hand on Daisy's side, her fur hot to the touch, and she looked up at me with sleepy eyes.  "Are you finished, Mom?"

Yes, sweet girl.  

I woke Duke and we all three headed home.

My friends napping in the sun. 


Monday, February 18, 2013

Unknown Stalked Fungus

February 10th was a lovely, cool and overcast Sunday afternoon, perfect for wandering around in the woods with Daisy and Duke.  We came across this strange mushroomy thing growing at the base of a huge dead tree.  Other shelf fungi were growing up the trunk of the tree, but they were smaller, so this is not just a stalked version of those shelves.  The stalk looked like gray-blue velvet, while the top looked like wood. When I tapped it, it sounded like wood, too.  Soft wood... maybe "corky wood" is a better description.   The stem is on one side of the shelf-like fungus.  When I brushed the leaves away I found that the base was enlarged as it entered the soil, as if the top was so heavy it needed extra support.  I haven't found it in any of my field guides, but I will continue looking.

Here is Daisy on a ledge over Meetinghouse Creek Valley.  Duke had just headed down the steep hill to play in the creek below.  Daisy turned as if to say, "I'll stay here with you, Mom."

The day also included some interesting finds near an old home site.  I love finding mini greenhouses in bottles, and have been known to try to bring them home to enjoy.  This is alway a disaster, ending in a bottle of dead stuff.  These little treasures cannot be moved.  They have come this far because the light and environment is perfect where they are.  If you ever find one, my advice is, leave it!

When I came across the next thing (below), I had no idea what it was. I studied it a while, and finally pulled it out of the leaves to figure it out.  What do you think it is?



Saturday, February 16, 2013

Heirloom Tomatoes for Janisse

I drew these heirloom "Black Cherry" tomatoes last October (yes, this is an embarrassingly late post) from the summer garden I planted with my friend, Mary W.  I decided this journal entry would be a great way to introduce my readers to one of my favorite nature writers and poets: Janisse Ray.   Her most recent book, The Seed UndergroundA growing Revolution to save food, is a fascinating and eye-opening introduction to the saving of heirloom seeds such as the Black Cherry Tomatoes.  In it she writes,

'There is no despair in a seed. There's only life, waiting for the right conditions-sun and water, warmth and soil-to be set free. Everyday, millions upon millions of seeds lift their two green wings."

Beautiful.  I bet you are already inspired to plant some seeds!

I first became a fan of Janisse one night back in 1999 or 2000, when I heard her read from her book, Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, at Wofford College.  Her heartfelt reading brought me to joyful tears.  Afterwards, I rushed to buy a book, and as she signed it, amazed myself by gushing about how much I loved what she'd read.  (I don't usually act that way!)  Not surprisingly, I loved the whole book, and bought several for gifts.  I've also had two opportunities to spend some (not enough) time with Janisse.

If you spend any time at all with Janisse, or read her books of nonfiction, or poetry, you too will become a fan.  Here is what author Tina McElroy Ansa says about her:

"Janisse Ray is, and has always been, the real authentic deal.  She feels deeply about the land, the water, the life of this planet.  She lives that conviction. And she is blessed with the gift to write about this earth is a way that touches us all..."  

But Janisse doesn't just live her passion, and write her passion...she also teaches it. She and her husband own a farm in south Georgia, near Savannah, called Red Earth Farm.   Here they regularly "teach workshops on organic gardening, cheese-making, fermentation, canning, solar dehydration, backyard chickens, and other modern homesteading and sustainability skills"  She leads writing workshops at the farm, as well, during which you can, if you're interested, learn how to milk a cow!

As I mentioned, Janisse is a powerful and moving speaker.  Check here for her schedule of upcoming readings and talks.

And, for those who live nearby, JANISSE WILL BE IN GREENVILLE, SC this TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 19, as guest speaker at the South Carolina Native Plant Society - Upstate meeting.  I urge anyone in the upstate to come meet her, and hear her speak.   You'll be glad you did!

Box Turtle Plastron

I know... it's been a while since my last post.  No apologies, just a short explanation: book tour.

If you don't know about the book yet, go here:

             Middlewood Journal Book

Today, though, I have two posts I want to share.  First is this box turtle plastron I found on the pipeline in December.  No big deal, except for the fact that I finished it!  (I have five or six or seven, maybe  eight? unfinished entries.)  

The other post is coming up next!

Thanks for your patience!